As chemical and energy companies develop new chemical catalysts for shale gas they should think green, says David Constable, director of the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute.


Constable spoke with Bloomberg BNA about a workshop report the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released Aug. 18. The report urged federal agencies and the private sector to conduct research in specific areas to improve catalysts.

Better catalysts could convert natural gas and natural gas liquids into high-value chemicals with a lower carbon footprint than results from the traditional use of heavier petroleum-based feedstocks, the report said.

Constable said metals in most catalysts that break down petroleum and natural gas into chemical feedstocks are the main problem. Platinum, iridium and other metals in short supply are typically used, and mining them causes extensive environmental disruption, he said.

Greener solutions could include the use catalysts made from iron, cobalt, nickel or other abundant earth metals, or cell-based catalysts such as enzymes, Constable said.

Shale gas is transforming the U.S. economy, Constable said. “That transformation into needs to be done in as green a manner as possible.”

The chemical society’s Green Chemistry Institute already manages an initiative that works to improve the environmental profile of a different aspect of hydraulic fracking, in which companies inject liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc., to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.

The institute’s Hydraulic Fracturing Roundtable is developing new chemicals and chemical formulations for the underground injections, lubrication of equipment and other purposes. Companies participating in the roundtable strive to make substitutes that are less toxic, use less water and have other benefits compared to the chemicals for which they substitute, Constable said.